Since I teach writing, I’m very accustomed to those words: “How long does it have to be?”
The correct answer: “As long as it needs to be.”
This is the right answer for web content, too — with a little difference. While for a research paper or an essay, the rule is simply to write as many words as it takes you to say what you want to say, there are a few other factors for web content.
- How much space do you have? Sometimes the design factors limit the text to a very specific number of words. I often have 50 words or 280 words or some other particular number to work with. Sometimes it’s even more specific: so many characters on the left and so many on the right. Or sometimes the length is more flexible, but a number of items need to have the same length of content. If the text can’t be fitted to the design, then you may have to make changes in the design.
- Are you writing for the human visitors? Through testing, you can determine how much your human visitors will actually get to read — remember that many modern computer users simply don’t scroll. And many more will scroll on some pages but not on others. You can write more, either for the extensive readers in the target market or for the search engines, but it makes sense to know how much room you’ve got in the area that will probably be read. This isn’t all that different from the traditional method of writing newspaper articles — put the essential bits at the beginning for the headline skimmers, and go into leisurely detail later on for those who still have another cup of coffee to drink.
- Are you remembering your search engine visitors? The search engines want to offer your page to the people who want it. If the design decisions have left you with very little room for content, you may have a problem making the purpose of your page clear. In such cases, you may need to add some text someplace else. I have one client who has good results from thinking of each page as having two parts: a mostly graphic section at the top for human beings, and a good long text section at the bottom for the robots — and of course any people who care to stay and read it.
As always when you’re thinking about web content, it’s essential to remember that people don’t read on the web exactly the same way they read print. It’s also essential to remember that content affects — indeed is central to — SEO. This affects decisions about length as well as other issues in web content writing.
If you don’t do your own web content, knowing these things ought to help you understand why your web content writer changes up your text so much.